Thursday, January 1, 2009

Lhasa Through The Back Door, part one

My introduction to Lhasa, Tibet was less than auspicious. Most of the rest of the well read world knew more about Tibet than I did while I was there. What I knew about Tibet consisted of Tin Tin in Tibet by Herge. You'd better go get a copy if you don't know what I'm talking about.

Tibet was merely on my way to Nepal from Beijing. I had been on a long journey traveling 'hard seat' through China. Sometime I will have to let you read my journals about that. My original plan was to go the Monkey Way, Trans Siberian Railway across Mongolia, the former Soviet Union, then to Europe. Unfortunately, my traveling companions and I missed our opportunity. There were some political problems that I can not now recall but it meant that it was impossible to travel that way.

Deeply disappointed that we couldn't follow the plan, we had to come up with a new adventure quickly. Why? Because what is travel with out a destination you go nowhere. (Don't miss this kid... life metaphor) I don't remember exactly, but I think I was getting a few more pages glued into my passport at the US embassy in Beijing when we found a brochure about Nepal that mentioned good food, shopping and kayaking. Nepal really piqued my curiosity because a year or two earlier a fortune teller in Kobe, Japan was reading the bumps on my head and he told me that Nepal (never heard of it) would be a good country for me. In any case China had been a bit harsh on all of us and we were ready to go elsewhere. To summarize, we had been robbed twice and almost a third time, slept in dismal places with roaches, we were all coughing from the thick pollution, one of my companions found a beak in her food without which she would not have known what animal she was eating, and the only places to shop were government shops with touristy nick-knacks like green glass Laughing Buddhas that they claimed were jade. (Remember this was back in 1992, I keep hearing that China is so much better now.) So we came up with a scheme to get ourselves from Beijing to Xian, where the terracotta soldiers are, to Tibet and then fly into Nepal.

You might think, why a scheme, why not just go buy a ticket? Well, China wasn't quite that open back then. First of all, this wasn't too many years past the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 , about which you have no doubt heard. But also, it was very shortly after one of the horrible punishings of Tibetan Monks. This, especially, is the thing about which I was so under informed. I knew nothing about the massacres and humiliation of monks, nothing about the destruction of monasteries, nothing about the massive relocation of Chinese to Tibet. How could I not know? Well, that wasn't really mentioned in the History of Western Civilization classes I took in college, and the movies, The Little Buddha, 7 Years in Tibet, and Kundun hadn't come out yet.

Americans are really good at is exploring their own navels, often to the extreme exclusion of anything pertinent happening in the rest of the world. I was no exception.

*If you need to know more about Tibet at the time, google 'Tibet protests 1992' you will find and endless series of torture and imprisonment. There are people who have only been released from prison only this year for speaking out in 1992. A word of warning you will find murder, sexual abuse and other forms of torture.

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